Coke is Tasty Fun for the Chinese

After a hard day’s labour, there’s nothing like throwing off your shoes for a pair of Enduring and Persevering, revving up the Precious Horse and heading to the pub for a cool drink. Because you are driving, better avoid the Happiness Power and stick to the Tasty Fun.

Well, that’s what Beijingers have to look forward to. To Westerners, the brands are Nike, BMW, Heineken and Coca-Cola respectively, but in a nation where names are imbued with deep significance, Western companies have had to ring the changes.

Given that China’s market for consumer goods is growing by more than 13 per cent annually - and luxury-goods sales by 25 per cent - an off-key name could have serious financial consequences.

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So the art of picking a brand name that resonates with Chinese consumers has become a science, with consultants, computer programs and linguistic analyses to ensure that what tickles a Mandarin ear does not grate on a Cantonese one.

Art “is only a very, very tiny piece of it,” said Vladimir Djurovic, president of the Labbrand Consulting Company in Shanghai, which finds names for Western companies entering the Chinese market because the original branding does not convey what the product is about, is difficult to pronounce, or is offensive.

Microsoft had to think twice about its Bing search engine because the most common definitions are “disease”, “defect” and “virus”. The revised name, Bi ying, roughly means “responds without fail.”

Peugeot (Biao zhi) sounds enough like the Chinese slang for “prostitute” (biaozi) that in southern China, where the pronunciations are especially close, the brand has inspired dirty jokes.

Alternatively, a genuine Chinese name can say things about a product that a mere collection of homonyms never could. Take Citibank, Hua qi yinhang, which literally means “star-spangled banner bank,” or Marriott, Wan hao, or “10,000 wealthy elites”. And asked to introduce Marvel comics , the Labbrand consultants went with “Man wei” or “comic power.”